Best of EvX: How Turkic is Turkey?


map of the spread of farming in Turkey/Anatolia/Europe

Hello my Turkish and Turkic readers! In honor of having written a lot on this blog, we’re taking a look back at our most popular posts, and today’s is on the genetic history of Turkey and the Turkic peoples.

Since my original post, I have learned many things about Turkey–mostly that Turks and other Turkic peoples love their culture and heritage. Note: I will probably use “Turkey” and “Anatolia”, interchangeably in this post. Turkey is the name for the modern state located in the region; Anatolia is a more generic name for the geography. I know that “Turkey” as a state or even a people didn’t exist 8,000 years ago.

Turkey has a long and fascinating history. It is possibly the cradle of civilization, as sites like Gobekli Tepe attest, and one of the birthplaces of agriculture.

1280px-j228y-dna29Early farmers spread out from Anatolia into Europe and Asia, contributing much of the modern European gene pool. There are many Y-DNA haplogroups in modern Turkey, which most likely means the Turkish male population hasn’t been completely replaced in recent invasions. (It’s not uncommon for an invasion to wipe out 80+% of the male population in an area.) About 24% of Turkish men carry haplogroup J2, which might not have originated in Turkey all of those centuries ago, but by 12,000 years ago it was common throughout Turkey (and today remains the most common haplogroup). This lineage spread with the Anatolian farmers into Europe around 8,000 years ago. and presumably Asia, as well.

From Haak et al

The second most common Y-haplogroup, at 16%, is good old R1b, which was carried into Turkey around 5-6,000 years ago by the Indo-European invaders. (The Indo-European invasion in Spain apparently wiped out all of the local men, but was not nearly so bad in Turkey.) These invaders spoke the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European tree, including Hittite and Luwian.

The Anatolian languages went extinct following Anatolia’s conquest by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC (though it took several centuries for the languages to fall completely out of use.)

Haplogroup G–11%–is most common in the Caucasus, spread thinly over much of Anatolia and Iran, and even more thinly through Europe, North Africa, and central Asia. It’s probably a pretty old group–Otzi the Iceman was a member of the G clade.

Haplogroup E-M215 is found in about 10% of Turks and is most common in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, but is also quite common in Bedouin populations. It seems likely to be a very old haplogroup.

J1–9%–is common throughout the Middle East and amusingly reaches 46% among Jewish men named “Cohen.”

The rest of Turkish Y-chromosomes hail either from related haplogroups, like R1a, or represent smaller fractions of the population, like Q, 2%, commonly found in Siberia and Native Americans.

(Information on all Turkish Y-haplogroups.)

TurkmenSo how much Turkish DNA hails from Turkic peoples?

Modern Turks don’t speak Anatolian or Greek. They speak a Turkic language, which hails originally from an area near Mongolia. The Turkic-speaking peoples migrated into Anatolia around a thousand years ago, after a long migration/expansion through central Eurasia that culminated with the conquering of Constantinople. Today, the most notable Turkic-speaking groups are the Turks of Turkey,  AzerbaijanisUzbeksKazakhsTurkmen and Kyrgyz people.

The difficulty with tracing Turkic DNA is that, unlike the Mongols, Turkic DNA isn’t terribly homogeneous. The Mongols left a definite genetic signature wherever they went, but imparted less of their language–that is, they killed, raped, and taxed, but didn’t mix much with the locals. By contrast, the Turkic peoples seem to have mixed with their neighbors as they spread, imparting their language and probably not massacring too many people.

Asian, Australian, and Melanesian ethic groups (including Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese) from Haak et al’s dataset

According to Wikipedia:

The largest autosomal study on Turkish genetics (on 16 individuals) concluded the weight of East Asian (presumably Central Asian) migration legacy of the Turkish people is estimated at 21.7%.[1]

Note that Turkey shares haplogroup J2 with its Turkic neighbors. This raises an interesting possibility: early Anatolian farmers spread into central Eurasia, mixed with local nomadic Turkic speakers, and then migrated back into Turkey. But 16 people isn’t much of a study.

“South Asian contribution to Turkey’s population was significantly higher than East/Central Asian contributions, suggesting that the genetic variation of medieval Central Asian populations may be more closely related to South Asian populations, or that there was continued low level migration from South Asia into Anatolia.”

“South Asian” here I assume means that Turkey looks more like Iran than Uzbekistan, which is true. The Turkic wanderers likely passed through Iran on their way to Turkey, picking up Iranian culture (such as Islam) and DNA–plus the pre-existing Anatolian population was probably closer to Iran than Uzbekistan anyway.

… the exact kinship between current East Asians and the medieval Oghuz Turks is uncertain. For instance, genetic pools of Central Asian Turkic peoples is particularly diverse and modern Oghuz Turkmens living in Central Asia are with higher West Eurasian genetic component than East Eurasian.[2][3][4]

I think “West Eurasian” is a euphemism for “Caucasian.” East Eurasian (aka Asian) DNA, you can see in the map above, tends to be red+yellow, tending toward all red in Siberia and all yellow in Taiwan. Indo-European groups, including Iranians, tend to have a teal/blue/orange pattern. Turkmen, Uzbeks, and Uygurs, as you can see in the graph, have a combination of both sets of DNA. The Turks also have a small amount of east Asian DNA–but much less–while their neighbors in Iran and central Eurasia share a little Indian DNA.

Several studies have concluded that the genetic haplogroups indigenous to Western Asia have the largest share in the gene pool of the present-day Turkish population.[5][6][7][8][5][9][10][11] An admixture analysis determined that the Anatolian Turks share most of their genetic ancestry with non-Turkic populations in the region and the 12th century is set as an admixture date.[12]

Western Asia=Middle East.

So Turkish DNA is about 22% Turkic, from nomads who entered the country via Iran, and about 78% ancient Anatolian, from the people who had already lived there on the Anatolian plateau for centuries.

But as the Turkic peoples (and many of the comments on my original post) show, culture doesn’t have to be genetic, and many Turkic people feel a strong cultural connection to each other. (And many people report that various Turkic languages are pretty easy to understand if you speak one Turkic language–EG:

hello everyone I’m an Uzbek,

… tatars played a great role in Genghis’s empire and they had an empire after dividing the empire called Golden Horde, it was mongol state but after it became to turki with a time. and their sons are kazakh and kirgiz. Thats why we uzbeks can understand turkish easly more than our neighboors kazakhs. and we uzbeks are not mongoloid like kazakhs.because uzbek language has oghuz and karluk dialect. uzbek-uygur are like turkish-azerbaijani or turkish-crimean tatar. thats why uzbek dialect is most understandable language for every turkic people. but we can understand %95 uygur, %85 turkish-turkmen, %70 azerbaijani %50 kazakh.

Our Uzbeki friend’s full comment is very interesting, and I recommend you read the whole thing.

For that matter, many thanks to everyone who has left interesting comments sharing your family’s histories or personal perspectives on Turkish/Turkic culture and history over the years–I hope you have enjoyed this update.